Tuesday, January 27, 2009


I got a chance to see this the other day as part of my quest to see as many of the Oscar - Best Picture nominees as possible. Even though I despise Sean Penn I really found myself rooting for this movie. My wife Tamar made an excellent point mid-way through the movie, she said, "The way his eye crinkles when he smiles, you can tell that he is kind." Now that is some damn fine acting if a scowl puss like Sean Penn can pull that off.

Milk comes months after a controversial vote in California taking Gay Rights about 5 steps back. The film takes place in the early 70's as Harvey Milk (Sean Penn) moves to Castro Street in San Francisco with his lover Scott Smith (James Franco) to make a business and a life for themselves in the open away from their secret life in New York. Harvey and Scott finally find a place they can call home as they campaign to build a strong Gay community in the Castro. Harvey tries to run for local office and is shut down over and over again. His base however continues to build as he brings on a tough Lesbian campaign manager, Anne Kronenberg (Alison Pill) and a kid from the streets who started out as a prostitute to become one of Milk's biggest promoters, Cleve Jones (Emile Hirsch). In 1977 Milk finally wins as a city supervisor. But being the first openly gay supervisor has it's challenges as he is constantly put at odds by a fellow supervisor and homophobe Dan White (Josh Brolin).I'm going to reveal the spoiler here so be aware----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Harvey Milk and Mayor Moscone (Victor Garber) were both murdered at the end of the movie. Now what makes this tragic turn of events even more shocking is that they were killed at City Hall where they both worked by their former colleague Dan White. It is shocking to me to learn that this murderer Dan White who killed two people in cold blood, did it in a Federal building, walked away with only a 5 year prison sentence. That they used the now famous Twinkie Defense to explain how and why he killed the two men, and that it worked is absolutely a slap in the face to the justice system, not to mention an affront to humanity.

In the end Harvey Milk is shown to be a man of warmth and character that was on the verge of taking his revolution to the next level until his life was cut short by a petty politician. And as much as I liked Sean Penn's Harvey Milk and I truly believe that if he wins Best Actor, it will be much deserved--I'm still not certain this should have been nominated for Best Picture. Gus Van Sant is a great director but he's kind of all over the place in this movie, my question throughout is what kind of movie is it? Is it a revolution movie or is it about Harvey Milk. They try to do a little bit of both and I believe it doesn't work because of this. I would have liked to know more about Dan White and his motivations--he's hardly in this thing. Honestly I'm not sure how Josh Brolin was nominated for this, when they could have easily nominated James Franco or Emile Hirsch in this category. Also what a waste of Victor Garber's talents as Mayor Moscone, he hardly appears in the movie at all. Overall with the help of the steady influence of James Franco and the sunny turn by Sean Penn, Milk is a movie you should definitely see.

Grade: 3 Buckets


Lost Ronin said...

You don't like Sean Penn! You shouldn't even review unless you are un-biased.

Jeff said...

My review carries even more weight because even though I personally do not like Sean Penn I know he's a great actor and his performance in Milk is one of his best ever. So I think I was very fair.